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I’ve described how, in 1976, I met Willie Wilson, who introduced me to the passionate joy of infatuation between men. While visiting DC and in need of a one-night stand, he ran into me, a “near-virgin” at 23, at the Pier 9 disco, and came home with me. While pondering the failing three-way relationship he’d been in for 18 months in California, he stuck around for 2 weeks, long enough to rock my world.

After he’d left, I “carried a torch” for him for years and it was hard for any newcomer to measure up to my memory of Willie for a long time.

A former sailor and a mariner by training, he then ended up spending 5 years on a small research vehicle (the R/V Hero) traversing the Strait of Magellan between Argentina and Antarctica. Relationship magnet that he was, Willie found a partner among the 26 men assigned to that ship. He sent me numerous photos taken during those travels, including these two of him in Ushuaia, Argentina, known as “the southernmost city in the world (1980ish). They perfectly capture his Tom of Finland-like outsized natural masculinity and confident presence.

Several years later, when Willie had settled in San Diego, we reunited, got drunk and high on marijuana, and, during a late-night walk along the beach, I thanked him for all he’d done for me. I was a little giddy, extolling the joys of “first love”. He deflated me a bit, when he disclosed that his first had been a “schmuck”, ending things by driving him into the countryside and dropping him off without transportation back.

At the end of our walk, I was in no condition to drive myself home, so Willie invited me to spend the night. While I was lying in his bed, bumping up against him, one thing led to another, our lips found each other, and we had sex again, 6 years after our initial encounter. It was hot, sweet, and cathartic.

While my fondness for Willie has never abated, the longing that had been present all that time was suddenly gone.

—Mike Balaban


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